Swinney gives Clemson bang for the buck

When Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was hired in 2009, his original contract was for a base salary of $900,000. Since then, he has won two Atlantic Division titles and an ACC championship.

When Maryland coach Randy Edsall was hired last year, he signed a contract worth $2 million per year for six years. Since then, he has won two games.

Who in the ACC is getting the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to head coaches’ salaries?

Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips.

Swinney, who signed a contract extension last month, earned a raise to increase his salary to $2.2 million this year, but he agreed to take $300,000 less to help compensate his staff. It worked. The Tigers hired defensive coordinator Brent Venables away from Oklahoma with a five-year, $4 million deal. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris earned a revamped contract after just a season and has a six-year, $7.8 million deal. Clemson’s assistants will earn a program-record $6.1 million in 2012.

Swinney, like most coaches, has his doubters, but given his accomplishments it’s clear he is earning his money. He has put together a knowledgeable staff, recruited back-to-back top 10 classes and led the program to its first ACC championship in 20 years and first Orange Bowl appearance in 30 years. He met all major contract escalators from his 2009 contract, which meant his base compensation would rise to the median salary of all ACC coaches with an Atlantic Division title. He checked that off the list in 2009. He met the other major escalator by leading Clemson to the ACC championship this past season, which boosted his base salary to the average of the top seven ACC head coaches.

Jimbo Fisher ($2.7 million), Paul Johnson ($2.3 million), Frank Beamer ($2.32 million) and Jim Grobe ($2.2 million) are the only ACC coaches making more than Swinney, according to the USA Today coaches’ salaries database and several other sources. (Al Golden's salary was unavailable.) Mike London’s recent raise brings him to $2.1 million, and it was well-deserved after the program’s first bowl appearance, best record since 2007 and an ACC Coach of the Year Award.

There are some coaches in the league, such as Beamer and Grobe, who have earned their tenure and their salaries. Some might say what they’ve done for their respective programs has been priceless. As the youngest coach in the ACC, Swinney, 42, has had to pay some dues. He doesn’t have the longevity of Beamer, the coach of the year titles of Johnson or the hurdles to overcome of Grobe. He does, however, have two title game appearances in three seasons.

That’s called getting what you paid for.